Suffrage Ribbons

  It is very likely that the first woman suffrage ribbons were home made. The earliest reference to ribbons was from the failed 1867 campaign in Kansas, where supporters crafted examples in yellow, the color taken from the State flower.  It is from these ribbons that yellow eventually became the official color of many suffrage organizations, including the National American Woman Suffrage Association.  For the most part, ribbons were not worn as everyday accoutrements; their use was basically limited to conventions, parades, and some rallies.  In general, they are scarcer to find than buttons and badges because of their restricted use.  You will find below background to some of the more noteworthy examples.


Belva Lockwood “Mock” Ribbons  Rebus RiboonLockwood GuardWhen Belva Lockwood ran for President in 1884 and then again in 1888, there were fears by some suffragists that her campaigns would become the subject of ridicule and thus detract from the seriousness of the movement.   Whatever benefits that Lockwood’s candidacies may have had for the advancement of women’s rights, there is no doubt that they were the subject of extensive satire.  Men throughout the country mocked her campaign and the struggle for equal voting rights through a series of torchlight and “Mother Hubbard” parades, where they would dress up as women and hold rallies purportedly supporting her.  The ribbons pictured here probably all came from these mock rallies and were not issued by campaign sources, even though only the Lockwood caricature piece appears on the surface to be satiric. The two differently colored rebus ribbons are of slightly different design and were probably used for festivities at different locations. While Lockwood did produce campaign cards and informational literature, there is no record of her having distributed any lapel material. For further information about “Mother Hubbard” parades, see my forthcoming book, Woman Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated History. 

The Kansas Amendment Ribbon, one of the most graphic of all such items issued in the 19th century, has an interesting background. These ribbons were the product of a local newspaper, The Farmer’s Wife, which sold them at ten cents each and one dollar for a dozen. Emma Pack, an émigré from Pennsylvania, edited the paper and the publisher was her husband, Ira, a Populist Party sympathizer.  The publication addressed general concerns of farmwomen on the prairie, and served as an advocate for equal suffrage, an elevation of women’s economic status, and Prohibition.  Politically, the paper generally supported the Populist Party agenda.  It was in existence for a scant three years from 1891-94, when it ceased publication after the Kansas equal suffrage amendment of 1894 went down to defeat. The paper proved to be an extremely valuable resource for suffrage news for those women in the state’s rural areas who could not attend distant rallies and meetings.

The Political Equality Club of Minnesota was originally named the Woman Suffrage Club of Minneapolis when it formed in 1868, and it was renamed as the Equality Club in 1897, not disbanding until the passage of the national suffrage amendment in 1920. The club hosted many conventions of the Minneapolis Woman Suffrage Association, and served as one of the hosts for a conference in 1897 of the leadership of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Although the Political Equality Club ribbon displayed here is undated, it probably was used for that 1897 convention.  Susan B. Anthony is known to have autographed several of the leadership ribbons.

The legend at the bottom of the 1894 New York State Woman Suffrage Association Convention Ribbon refers to the fact that in that year New York held a Constitutional Convention at which women were not allowed to attend, even though one of the issues to be discussed was that of Woman Suffrage.  The leadership of the New York suffrage movement still saw the Convention as an opportunity to gain the vote.  A petition campaign was run out of Susan B. Anthony’s home in Rochester to secure 1,000,000 signatures in support of the franchise for women. Joining forces with labor organizations and the Granges, suffragists managed to secure 600,000 signatures, an impressive number for the time, but the suffrage amendment was still defeated 98-58. Still, the ribbon was issued in celebration of hard work and the large number of people who were in public support of the franchise. The NYWSA was one of the most prolific of all state organizations in terms of production of ribbons.  Many of their ribbons were actually badges, with the cloth attached to a button

depicting a famous suffragist such as Susan B. Anthony, Cary Chapman Catt, Anna Howard Shaw, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Emma Willard.  NYWSA was one of the few suffrage associations to feature portraits of suffragists on their memorabilia, although many of these items were memorial.  American suffrage groups,

unlike several of their English counterparts, tended to shy away from promoting their leaders, focussing more on ideology instead. NYWSA may have also considered the fact that these were delegate ribbons, not pieces that were distributed to and worn by members of the general public.   Although all convention ribbons are scarce today, the extant ribbons from NAWSA gatherings suggest a large attendance at their conventions or else an impressive group of collector delegates.

Although these two 1919 Missouri Suffrage Convention Ribbons look as if they may have been variant pieces from the same event, they were not.  The ribbon on the left was issued by the National American Woman Suffrage Association for their 50th Anniversary Jubilee gathering held in St. Louis on March 24-29 at the Statler Hotel with about 600 members in attendance.  It was at this convention that Carrie Chapman Catt proposed the formation of a league of women voters to “finish the fight.”  The ribbon itself was modeled after a design that NAWSA had used in both 1916 and 1917.  The Missouri State Convention that year was also held in St. Louis, where Mrs. George Gellhorn was elected as local president.

NAWSA Convention Ribbons  While it is not known how many of NAWSA’s conventions resulted in the production of ribbons one the organization had formed in 1890, it is likely that most if not all of them did.  Convention programs generally had delegate instructions informing participants as to where they could pick up their credentials, these credentials generally involving ribbons of some sort. Most conventions produced multiple ribbons, the style and color of each indicating the wearer’s status–delegate, official, committee member, general public, etc.  Most designs were unique to a particular convention, but, beginning in 1916, a generic design was used.  Sometimes special ribbons were made for NAWSA’s President such as those printed for Carrie Chapman Catt.  The ribbons represented on the left and below are but a small portion of known items.











The two delegate ribbons below from 1916 and 1917 are of the same design as the 1919 item shown above. There was no convention in 1918 because of the War and thus no ribbon from that year.









Pennsylvania State Ribbons  Most large state organizations printed ribbons for at least some of their conventions. One such group was the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association, which was organized in 1868. It was in Pennsylvania on July 4, 1876 that Susan B. Anthony read her famous “Declaration of Rights for Women” in front of the statue of Washington at Independence Hall.  Pennsylvania suffragists include Lucretia Mott, Ann Davies, Florence Kelley, Ann Preston, and Emma Guffey Miller.  Although the suffrage referendum was defeated in the State in 1915 by 55,000 votes, Pennsylvania didbecome the seventh state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment on June 14, 1919, just ten days after it had passed in Congress. Suffragists at the 1914 Convention laid out their plans for the coming campaign, one of which was to “recast” the Liberty Bell, which was done in Troy, New York.  A special truck was devised to carry the Bell throughout all of the counties of the State. It had a small speaker’s platform where workers lectured on behalf of the suffrage amendment, and passed out literature, buttons, and a special watch fob. The Liberty Bell campaign was famous for its efforts in rural communities, which otherwise had little access to the positive message of the upcoming campaign.  The clapper on the Bell was tied in place to prevent it from ringing until Pennsylvania women had been granted the vote.

Other State Convention Ribbons  The Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association was organized in 1881, several years after both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had visited the State, by Clara Benwick Colby, who served as the organization’s first Vice President.  Ohio was one of six states that had scheduled suffrage referenda in 1912. Unfortunately, it failed there as well as in two of the other five. Earlier in 1911, Ohio workers were highly optimistic that they might even precede California as the sixth state to grant women the right to vote.  The Warren Political Equality Club ribbon pictured below is from Warren, Ohio, which was the home of the National American Woman Suffrage Association until socialite Alva Belmont provided the organization with the funds to move to New York.




The Michigan Equal Suffrage Association was formed in May of 1884 in Flint, and worked tirelessly for the passage of the Franchise until it was passed by the legislature in 1893.  However, the State Supreme Court struck down the law on the basis that it would create a “new class of voters.” Activists worked especially hard in campaigns in 1912 and 1913, but lost both times, perhaps because of voter fraud the first year and low voter turnout the second. Michigan women were finally given the right to vote in 1918, two years before the National Amendment.




The Missouri ribbon is interesting in that it contains an image of the Clarion figure, imported from England by Harriot Stanton Blatch and identified in America with the more militant factions of the movement.  However, the remainder of the ribbon and the button are in yellow, a color associated with the more conservative groups.  The precinct ribbon is from California as was used in their successful campaign in 1911 to add the State as the sixth star in the suffrage flag.  Although many ribbons along with sashes were used to identify officials at conventions, this ribbon attached to the Men’s League celluloid button is one of the few to actually spell out its function.

Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party   The official colors of Alice Paul’s National  Woman’s Party in its various incarnations (Congressional Union, the Woman’s Party), were always purple, yellow, and white, although sometimes blue could be substituted.  The purple reflected the militancy of the English movement, where the color first achieved symbolism and prominence) and the yellow was associated with the American movement.  So visible were Paul’s supporters and demonstrations that her color scheme became widely known that often the Party did not bother to imprint its ribbons and sashes, letting the colors speak for themselves.  These two ribbons, obviously, were less experimental in that regard.

Municipal Suffrage for Women    In several states, dating back into the nineteenth century, women were allowed to vote in municipal elections, although not in state or presidential contests.  Even then, their vote was often restricted to school elections.  One of the arguments of suffragists was that women wanted the vote in order to be better mothers, that they needed to have their say about matters relating to education and other issues concerning their children.  It is theorized that some states may have provided women with the opportunity to vote in municipal elections to undermine the argument of why they needed to have a larger electoral voice. This is the only known ribbon from an unidentified city and state urging even that minimal access to the ballot.


C.O.U.F.T.D.O. Ribbon  Beginning in the late nineteenth century, many lodges, unions, fire departments, and other organizations printed ribbons for various outdoor gatherings such as picnics and retreats.  A theme often found on these ribbons is “What A Rousing Time To Be Had At . . .” Essentially, this is the message appearing on the ribbon to the left, produced by a homeopathy group for an event held on August 16, 1894.  The image of a couple kissing reflects a period stereotype that somehow suffragists were asexual.



For more information about these and other suffrage ribbons, consult my forthcoming book from McFarland Press, Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: an Illustrated Historical Study. Details about publication date and ordering will be posted on the home page of this site.

18 thoughts on “Suffrage Ribbons

  1. I am conducting a project on the Justice Bell (also known as the “Women’s Liberty Bell” or the “Women’s Suffrage Bell”). I am looking for images and memorabilia of the Justice Bell, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Do you have any in your collection?

    • Holly, yes I do, including a ticket to the casting of the bell, postcards, including real photo pieces of the Bell being carried on a specially constructed truck, and buttons and a watch fob that were handed out as the Bell was driven from town to town during the Pa campaign in 1915. I will get in touch with you outside this blog to arrange for the transmission of these images.

  2. Hello,

    I’m a community college history professor and I’m giving a talk about my research on the local women’s suffrage movement in western New York on Aug. 9th. I came across your webpage in searching for images on NYS suffrage. Would you be willing to grant me permission to use images of the 1894 NYWSA convention ribbon and 1899 Dunkirk convention ribbon in my Powerpoint for my talk? Of course, I would be happy to credit your collection and/or website. I very much enjoyed reading through your display. I also must compliment you on your information. Your info on New York State is very thorough. Thank you for your efforts!

    • I have given Professor Langworthy permission to use the images that she has requested, and I am grateful to her for asking for approval first. In general my policy is to approve all such requests as long as they are educational in purpose, related to suffrage, non-commercial, and give credit to this site. One of the purposes of this site is to encourage scholars to see memorabilia as integral to the culture of the suffrage movement, which Professor Langworthy is clearly doing.

  3. Hello, I came across your site while looking for materials for an online course I’m teaching in Women’s & Gender Studies – such rich resources! I would love to use some of the images for our section on the history of the women’s movements. I also will of course include a link to your site, and credit the images. Thought I should make sure that is okay first? Thank you for sharing this work.

    • I have given Professor Armstrong permission to use images from this site that she considers to be of interest for her course. I am very pleased that academics are taking suffrage memorabilia so seriously.

  4. Hello, I am researching the suffrage movement and would dearly like to be able to see all your website has to offer. Thanks so much!

    • Beth,
      As I indicated to you privately, there really isn’t a membership to this site, and anyone is free to visit it. I know there is an annoying pop up that suggests that you have to log in, but feel free to ignore it.

  5. Hello,
    I am looking for any images of artifacts relating specifically to Victoria Woodhull for a virtual exhibition final graduate project. I stumbled upon this website quite unexpectedly, and am hopeful you can help me.

    • I have replied privately to Corie. Most of the standard images of Woodhull can be found on the internet. The most sensational, of course, is Thomas Nast’s depiction of her as Mrs. Satan in a cover drawn for Harper’s magazine.

  6. Inquiry. Have you heard a song called “The Yellow Ribbon”? If so, might you have the lyrics? And, what tune was used.

    • The suffrage song “The Yellow Ribbon” was published in 1876 with words by Marie LeBaron. It was sung to the tune of “The Wearing of the Green.” You can find the complete lyrics in Danny Crew’s book “Suffragist Sheet Music,” published by McFarland Press, which, if your library doesn’t have it should be readily available through Interlibrary loan.


  7. I’m so fortunate to have discovered your site! I’m in Canada and wondering if you know what colours were most prominent on our prairies. I think the British violet, white and green may have been around, but I think the US colours of gold, white and purple were more prevalent. Would you be able to give me some advice on which colours to use for a museum exhibit, please? Thanks!

    • I wish I could help you with this, and I would love to hear more about your museum exhibit. I know little about the Canadian suffrage movement, which, apparently, was more restrained than its English and even American counterparts. Did the Canadians have much of a national organization or were campaigns, with the possible exception of the WCTU, mostly locally organized. I gather that some women received the right to vote in national elections in 1918, but that the local vote in many of the provinces came later. I have seen very little in the way of memorabilia from Canada, so I don’t have much in the way of evidence even to hazard a guess. The US colors of gold, purple, and white were restricted to Alice Paul’s Congressional Union, later to become the National Woman’s Party. No other suffrage organization here would have used them. If youy have seen these colors in use at all in Canada, it would have meant some participation by the Paul people. At any rate, I apologize for not being of more help.

      • Thanks for replying so quickly. Since you asked, the museum exhibit I’m mounting focuses specifically on Saskatchewan suffragists, who were successful in securing the provincial franchise in 1916 (the second province in Canada to do so and well before the federal vote was granted in 1918). You’re correct in that Canadian movements were very subdued compared to the US and especially Britain. You could say that in typical Canadian fashion we restricted ourselves to marches, petitions, public lectures, rallies and other public events. In the prairie provinces the movement was lead mainly by agrarian organisations, provincial franchise boards and equity leagues and the WCTU. In Saskatchewan there was relatively little resistance from the Provincial Government. Anyway, there is very little information and samples of sashes, buttons, etc based on Canadian “colours.” However, I think given the information I’ve found on your site and the probability that we were most likely influenced by the US mid-West I’ll lean toward using your gold and black. Cheers!

  8. Good morning,

    I am messaging from the Public Relations and Parliamentary Protocol branch at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. We are organizing display cases to celebrate the centennial of women’s voting rights in Ontario. I came across your website of all the memorabilia and the details you have provided. I was hoping I can contact you via email to discuss if there are any possibilities as to incorporate your findings into our exhibit, as it would be well suited. Hope to hear from you soon.

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